By JEFF CLEMETSON
Eric Rosenzweig has been a resident of College Area for 23 years. In 2005, he remodeled his home at 5167 59th St. that included an add-on room.
“I have no problem with people building on their own property. I think everybody has a right to do that. When I built on mine, it was relatively easy to do,” he said. “But the difference was, I talked to my neighbors on both sides and behind. I said, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing. Is this gonna work for you? What can we do to make accommodations? When Joe, our neighbor over there, did the same thing, he talked to us. I’ve had no communication from anybody here about what’s going on.”
What Rosenzweig knows about what is going on at the property directly behind his house is that there is a plan in the permitting phase to build several two-story ADU units, and another plan to build more on a property across the street diagonal from him. Both properties are not owned by accessible neighbors like Joe, but by an LLC looking to take advantage of city and state ordinances allowing development in previously single-home neighborhoods.
“Behind us, this will be three two-story buildings or six ADUs, plus a seventh ADU off of the main house. Across the street … will be another three two-story building, or six ADUs. … Essentially, they’re building apartment buildings that are not ADUs,” Rosenzweig told a group of a few dozen neighbors who gathered at his home on Dec. 4. The gathering was organized with the help of Neighbors For a Better San Diego, a grassroots group of homeowners organizing to oppose commodification of residential areas in the city by commercial interests and developers.
“When we started fighting back against this, it spread from neighborhood to neighborhood, development to development,” said Geoffrey Hueter with Neighbors For a Better San Diego. “And one of the things that [residents] find in this process is there’s lots of money and lots of access for people who donate, who have interest in projects. If I’m an investor, if I do transit business, I’m in the GIS mapping business. If I have business with the city and I have something to get out of it, I can afford to have somebody down at City Hall every day presenting my interest. And what there isn’t, is somebody down at City Hall every day representing us.”
That lack of representation is an issue raised by several neighbors at the gathering. Rosenzweig pointed out that District 9 City Council representative and newly elected as Council president Sean Elo-Rivera, although invited, did not send anyone to attend the event. Rosenzweig said he called Elo-Rivera a few days before to discuss the issues with the planned ADU projects in his neighborhood and described the councilmember as “responsive, but certainly not wanting to commit to anything.”
Elo-Rivera has proposed a modification to the city ordinance that “does a few things but certainly doesn’t go far enough,” Rosenzweig said, and added that the Mayor Gloria’s office also sent a response but only offered to include returning the four feet of setback from neighboring property lines to the ordinance.
Another modification to the city’s ADU ordinance meant to appease neighboring residents — that if there are three units built in a yard, the developer is required to plant one tree — Hueter described as a “peon.”
“So that’s how we’re going to preserve our urban canopy and resolve our differences and everything else?” he asked.
Although the focus of Neighbors For a Better San Diego is to revise the San Diego ADU ordinance to be at least as restrictive as the state rules that were created when the legislature passed SB 9, Hueter and other residents at the gathering raised issues with that law as well.
SB 9 requires that lots split up for multiple units to be built have a resident live in one of the units for at least three years, but Hueter said there was no mechanism created to enforce the rule and no penalties outlined for developers who break it. So a statewide database will need to be created to make sure that people who sign affidavits that they will live at a property are who they say they are and to make sure they are also not the signed resident at another property.
Hueter explained that SB 9, the state bill that authorizes ADU construction in all state neighborhoods, was a way to meet climate action goals by promoting infill development to avoid building housing developments into areas that are fire prone and required long auto commutes for residents to reach urban job markets.
“And there’s some logic to that,” he said, but added that the “logic breaks down” when the city is full of lots closer to transportation and in the urban core of San Diego — like empty lots on El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue — that could be developed, but those take more planning and time.
“It’s hard work. It’s not something that somebody can get reelected on a two-year cycle. It takes years and years and years to put these kinds of plans together, but they have the interaction of the community and the buy in of the community,” he said. “Because it takes all that time, the planning department doesn’t like it, the city doesn’t like it and so what they’re trying to do is take our voices out of the process.”
Giving a voice to residents, Hueter said, is why Neighbors For a Better San Diego organizes residents with events like the one on Dec. 4. The fruits of the organizing efforts will be tested at upcoming city meetings addressing the ADU ordinance.
Modifications to the ADU ordinance will be presented to the Community Planners Committee, a group representing all of San Diego’s different planning groups, then it will go to review by the Planning Commission, then to the Land Use Accounting Committee, then finally to City Council. Hueter and Neighbors For a Better San Diego are relying on large turnouts of residents who oppose the ADU ordinance to show up and put pressure on elected officials.
“It is unacceptable that San Diego residents won’t have a say in what the future of the city will look like,” Hueter said. “And we rightfully have the ability to push back against that and demand we do smarter planning in San Diego.”
Information about Neighbors For a Better San Diego, including links to text of San Diego’s ADU ordinance as well as SB 9, can be found at neighborsforabettersandiego.org.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.